Study: Want a long, healthy life? Where you live makes a differenceAnnual assessment shows Grand Forks, Polk counties improve in health rankings
Grand Forks County continues to score high among North Dakota counties in an annual assessment of the nation’s health, while Polk County improved its ranking among Minnesota counties but still falls in the lower half. Grand Forks County ranked third among 46 counties for which data were available, up from fourth in 2011. The county scored better than the state overall in rates for premature death, adult smoking and people reporting they were in poor or fair health.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks County continues to score high among North Dakota counties in an annual assessment of the nation’s health, while Polk County improved its ranking among Minnesota counties but still falls in the lower half.
Grand Forks County ranked third among 46 counties for which data were available, up from fourth in 2011. The county scored better than the state overall in rates for premature death, adult smoking and people reporting they were in poor or fair health.
The county doesn’t fare as well in a comparison with national averages in such categories as incidence of low birth weight, adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking, children in poverty and children in single-parent households.
Polk County, which ranked 69th of 84 Minnesota counties in 2011, moved up to 54th but continued to rank near the bottom in rates of adult smoking, drinking and obesity.
The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation built the rankings after researching how long and how well people live in more than 3,000 counties nationwide.
They identified critical factors that can affect individual health, including levels of education, income, insurance, access to medical care and access to healthy foods.
Griggs County ranked first in North Dakota for the second year, which pleased Julie Ferry, nurse administrator for the Nelson-Griggs District Health Unit in McVille, N.D.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” she said. “But I haven’t had a chance yet to analyze the data to see where we can take credit for it. It may be that there’s more awareness among people of what it takes to stay healthy.”
Her office also serves Nelson County, which ranked 17th.
Ferry said her office has tried to spread information on tobacco cessation programs and other behavior modification efforts, including through a survey conducted during flu clinics.
“There’s always ways to improve,” she said. “You’d like to see less tobacco use, less alcohol use by teens. Maybe as a community we can get together and talk about how we can maintain that status of being No. 1.”
Other northeast North Dakota counties also improved their rankings over 2011. Towner County jumped from 17th to 8th place and Traill County went from 16th to 10th.
Ramsey County fell from 9th to 39th, but it was not immediately clear what may have changed to cause such a drop.
In northwest Minnesota, Red Lake (37th), Pennington (34th) and Norman (81st) improved their health rankings over a year ago, while Marshall (11th), Roseau (51st) and Mahnomen (83rd) slipped from 2011. Results for 2012 were not available for Kittson and Lake of the Woods counties.
The county health rankings “show us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement accompanying the release of the report.
“In fact, where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live,” she said.
The research generally shows that people tend to live longer and have a better quality of life in counties with lower rates of smoking, teen births, unemployment, children in poverty and physical inactivity. Healthier counties also have higher rates of education and access to primary care physicians.
However, researchers said healthier counties were not more likely to have lower rates of excessive drinking and obesity or better access to healthier food.
The survey found that excessive drinking is highest in northern states while rates of teen births, sexually transmitted infections and children in poverty are highest in the South.
The data is meant to help local health officials see how their counties measure up and where work needs to be done.
The full results, with interactive maps providing access to individual state and county results, are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.